The stay in the Police GH in Dhubri had been very comfortable. In the morning, Dipak picked me up for a visit to the Indo-Bangladesh border. The visit gave me an appreciation of the difficulties faced in ‘securing’ the border due to its porosity. Fencing is in progress and is expected to be competed in that area soon. However, the River and its constant change of course make the task difficult. I saw a bridge standing over a sandy ‘island’, which once linked either sides of the River – after the completion of the bridge the River changed its course. I was also given to understand by the BSF personnel that soil erosion is major concern in the area. Dipak informed me that an entire subdivision of the District has been swallowed up by the River over years. The BSF personnel posted at the Out Post do an extremely competent job in a harsh and difficult environment – they brave malaria, snakes, mosquitoes and the incessant rain. Smuggling of goods to Bangladesh is a lucrative proposition; everything from scrap to second hand bicycles to cows fetches a handsome profit. Such activities are done under the cover of darkness and across the River. During the visit, I was lucky to see a ‘Brahmaputra Dolphin’
After breakfast with Dipak and Bhavna, I left for Guwahati. The 10.45 am start was a late one and I was a bit worried as I was not sure about the condition of the road and the time that would be required to negotiate the 260 km route. Dipak had assured me that the condition of the road is much better than what I had encountered the previous day. I was pleasantly surprised to hit a wonderful section – I covered the route to Guwahati in less than three and a half hours, and made up for the previous day. The ’coconut laddus’, which Bhavna had packed for me the previous day, was over before the container was opened!
The route to Guwahati is green and scenic. The Jogigopa Bridge over the Brahmaputra is an amazing sight and a joy to drive on. While passing through Goalpara the thoughts of another incident of the 1983 visit to Assam welled up. The probationers on election duty were relaxing in the Dharamshala in Dhubri one day, awaiting news of when we would be told that our duties in the sensitive area were over. The DM came with a request for volunteers to be airlifted to Goalpara, where the situation had turned tense due to a shootout between the Assam Rifles and the BSF. He told us very clearly that the ‘mission’ is fraught with great risk. However, some of us saw this as another opportunity for adventure and a unique chance to hitch a ride in a helicopter. 12 of us volunteered and the news of this spread throughout the camp. The next day morning, the ‘Twelve Brave Hearts’ were given a ‘sendoff’ by the rest of the probationers on the banks of the Brahmaputra. I was the last to board the chopper. As I was stepping into it, I felt a cold hand on my shoulder. I turned back to see a colleague, AK Biswas, with an outstretched hand in greeting. As I shook his hand, with a grave face and a steely tone, he said, “It was nice knowing you, Mr Joseph”. A chilling sendoff, if ever there needed to be one!
My father was most upset when he heard of my volunteered adventure trip to Goalpara. He was the DGP of Kerala at the time. Despite his position, it was difficult for him to get information – the travails of the pre-mobile era? It was rumored that when an officer went to him with sensitive information on Santanpara (on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border) he said that he was more interested in information from Goalpara! Fortunately, normalcy retuned without our having to ‘see action’ in Goalpara.
Maligaon, on the approach to Guwahati from Dhubri, is the HQ of the North Frontier Railway. This is one Railway that was not ‘disturbed’ during the reorganization of the Zonal jurisdictions. Hence, the spread of the NFR continues to be vast and includes all the ‘seven sisters’, parts of West Bengal and Bihar. I ‘checked In to’ the ORH at Maligaon. The officers’ colony is extremely well maintained and has facilities for Swimming, Badminton, Squash, Tennis, etc. My batchmates, PS Nerwal and Sunder Ram, are the CCM and COM of the NFR.
Over a late lunch with the Nerwals, an Inspector was arranged to accompany me to some of the local sights. The first visit was to the Vashist Temple, which is located off the Shillong Highway. The place, where the Temple is now located, is surrounded by hills and waterfalls and was desolate. It is said that by the power of meditation and penance, the sage Vashista diverted the Ganges in three flows and offered daily worship at the confluence of the three courses of the Ganges. The Balajee Temple is a recent construction. It is clean and beautifully maintained.
Cocktails and dinner were arranged by the Nerwals. Besides, Sunder Ram and I, Dr Manocha, another batchmate and the Divisional Railway Manager of Rangia, joined in for the evening. The setting was perfect for a recollection of past experiences, an understanding of the NFR developments and catching up on friends and acquaintances. The excellent dinner and ‘kheer’ wound up the ‘spirited’ get togther.